Do employers haze new college grads in interviews?

In the January 26, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we talk about where parents fit in the career equation.

Question

I’m a senior at a big state university in the midwest. I have applied for many jobs and gotten a few leads, and some employers are inquiring via my LinkedIn account. The problem is that some of these employers require me to take silly numerical assessments that have nothing to do with the job, and I have to invest time in them before I can even have an interview.

hazing1

Recently I was sitting before a group of managers and asked to use mental math on a series of frivolous arithmetical questions. I offered very close approximations, but was prompted to “be more specific.” I stopped and said, “Look, if I’m making decisions on the fly, I’m estimating. I’m not a human calculator. I’m here to do my job well, and this isn’t a tool I’ll utilize.”

I was escorted out. Did I make the right move? Are some interviews just a form of hazing that we are supposed to tolerate just because we’re applying for our first jobs?

Nick’s Reply

I’m sorry you’re having such a hard time, but I think you made the right move. I think some people would disagree, and suggest that you take whatever employers shovel at you, because you’re a new grad and need to get a job.

Sadly, this sort of new-grad employment hazing is common. The attitude among some employers seems to be that, since you have no real experience they can judge you on, anything goes. Why are manhole covers round? How many barbers do you think are in Chicago? What animal would you be, if you could be any animal? Or, do some quick math out loud so we can see whether you’re smart. (It gets worse. See Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions: #1 – #5.)

These are excuses for employers’ failure to learn how to assess whether a person can do a job. (See What is the single best interview question ever?) I think your instinct is correct. These are not legitimate interview practices. HR buys these lame “screening tools” from “HR consultancies” run by failed HR people. It’s really stupid. I compliment you for coming out of school and questioning what seems to be standard procedure that isn’t legit, smart, or acceptable.

Such ridiculous screening practices tell you a lot about an employer and what it would be like to work there. Smarter companies are coming to realize how this kind of nonsense reflects on them. Google, for example, recently announced it would stop using silly questions to assess candidates, because the company did an outcomes analysis and found such questions don’t predict an employee’s success. (See 4 HR Practices That Kill ROI.) More employers need to reconsider their screening methods.

As I mentioned above, you’ll find that many people will advise you to shut up and play ball, and to never question the people who control the job offer. But I’ll tell you to never hesitate to judge the managers who are interviewing you.

In Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers, (p. 28) I offer this advice:

Judge a manager’s sincerity about working together. Does she want to hire you because you can add something to the way the work is done, or does she want another interchangeable part for her machine? Listen carefully to what the manager says. You will hear either a mind interacting with your own, or a machine waiting to grind you up.

Too often, in an effort to impress a manager, candidates calculate their answers so they’ll add up for the manager — but not for the candidate. Consider that if you need to calculate your answers this way, there’s a good chance you’re playing to the interview rather than setting the stage for an honest, accurate judgment.

What would happen if you answered simply, directly and honestly? Perhaps the manager would not like your answer. Perhaps your answer would cost you the job. That’s good. Because, do you want to work with a manager who can’t deal with you?

It’s your choice. Every question a manager asks tells you something about the manager. Every reaction to your answers tells you something, too. The manager is judging you. Don’t forget to judge the manager.

Consider that out of dozens of interviews, only one might turn into a job offer. Likewise, out of dozens of employers, only one might behave professionally enough to be worth working for. It’s up to you to use your good sense to judge who’s worthy. The idea that you should sit back and take whatever an interviewer throws at you — that’s about as reasonable as you tossing silly questions at employers and expecting them not to kick you out of interviews. Hazing, whether practiced by college fraternities and other social groups, or by employers, reveals that the group has nothing better to offer than a pathetic demonstration of its own insecurity.

If you’re going to be shown the door — like you were — let it be because you have higher standards than an employer whose idea of interviewing is silly hazing. (See Raise your standards.)

When you find a good employer, you’ll know it. There are some excellent ones out there who will engage you in discussion about the work they want done, and who know how to assess your abilities respectfully and intelligently. They’re worth looking for. Meantime, remember that stupid interview questions are sometimes a sign of stupid employers. Move on.

How do you handle silly interview questions? (Maybe you don’t think the example in this Q&A was so silly?) Do you have ways of helping keep interviews on track? Have you ever been rejected because you couldn’t explain what animal you would be, if you could be any animal?

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Protect yourself from exploding job offers

I don’t know where they’re all coming from: bogus job offers extended by employers, then withdrawn after the job applicant has relied on the offer and quit their old job. In the January 19, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader is smart enough to ask how to avoid being left without a job at all.

Question

I’m on contract at a job through a staffing firm. I have found a better position somewhere else. The new company offered the job and I accepted. I’m trying to do this right and to protect myself, so I have two questions:

First, to whom should I direct my resignation letter? To my recruiter at the staffing firm, or to the manager of the department where I’m actually working (at my recruiter’s client)?

bombSecond, I’m scared of telling whoever I’m supposed to tell, and later receiving a letter from my future employer saying that they decided to close the position for internal reasons or something like that. I don’t want to be left without any job at all.

Help ASAP please.

Nick’s Reply

How you quit your job matters as much as what new job you take. Let’s take your questions one at a time.

How to quit

If you’re working on contract through a staffing firm, your employer is the staffing firm. You need to tell them. Of course, the right thing to do is to also tell your manager — but I think it’s best to notify your actual employer first. They should have a chance to limit their exposure by offering a replacement worker to your manager, and your manager should hear it from them.

Here’s a tip from Parting Company: How to leave your job about what to say in a resignation letter, from the section, “Resign Yourself To Resigning Right,” p. 46:

The letter should be just one sentence because — sorry to be the cynic, but careers and lives might hinge on this — it can come back and bite you legally if it says anything more.

“I, John Jones, hereby resign my position with Acme Corporation.”

I won’t get into all the things that might go wrong if you say more, but I detail the risks in the book.

Submitting your resignation is the easy part. The recruiter at your staffing firm isn’t going to be happy that you’re quitting. What will you do when the recruiter, your boss, or your co-workers press you for details? Here’s another tip from the book (p. 47):

Keep your future to yourself. It’s nice to share your new address with your buddies. But if someone thinks your new employer is a competitor, suddenly that comfortable two-week notice can turn into an immediate departure. Or worse.

How to Say It
“I don’t think it’s appropriate to disclose my new employer until I’m actually working there.”

That’s right: Disclosing where you’re going is very risky. Don’t do it.

How to avoid job offers that blow up in your face

As for being scared that the future employer may rescind — or never finalize — the offer, that can always happen. It’s a risk you take when you accept any job, because — especially in a jurisdiction where employment is “at will” — an employer can fire you at any time for any reason or no reason. But you can minimize the risk when you accept a job:

1. Make sure you have the new offer in writing. An oral offer is not good enough to risk your old job.

2. Beware of staffing firms. Is the offer from another staffing firm or an actual company where you’d be working? If it’s a staffing firm, I think your risk is bigger because recruiters will sometimes drop you if they turn up a better applicant for the client — right in the middle of the hiring process, and even after commitments are made. Likewise, the client can suddenly change its mind, and you wind up on the street. Because hiring through a staffing firm is at arm’s length, employers seem to think they have no obligation to consider the consequences for the new hire.

3. Meet the new HR manager before quitting your old job, but after they’ve promised an offer. This is a technique of personal politics. They’re not likely to meet with you if they’re not certain they’re hiring you. Insist on a face-to-face meeting with HR before you resign your old job. It’s a simple fact of social psychology: People are less likely to hurt you once they’ve met you face to face.

4. Meet your new boss. Before you quit your old job, insist on a meeting with your new boss to discuss your job responsibilities, on-boarding process, what tools you’ll be using, and so on. This forces the manager to put some skin in the game and makes it emotionally harder for them to back out — but even this is no guarantee.

5. Here’s my secret weapon. This is something I want an employer to do after it has given my candidate a job offer, but before the candidate accepts the job (or quits the old job, of course). Ask to meet some of the team members you’ll be working with. The sooner the better. This will reveal how serious they are about really filling this job and having you there. If the company balks at this, I’d never quit my old job until I’ve got some other hard evidence that the new job is for real. (For more about this, see How can I find the truth about a company?)

Limiting your risk when quitting one job and accepting another is more about personal politics than anything else. An employer (or staffing firm) can rescind an offer any time. You’d need a lawyer to fight back. I think the better strategy is to get close to the new boss and team — and to take measures to force the staffing firm to show you that the offer and the job are real. Then there’s less chance that this will go south.

Be tough

Many employers — especially staffing firms — will balk at what I’m suggesting. They want to hire as effortlessly as possible. Their attitude is, “We’ve got other applicants like you waiting — we’re not going to waste our time making you feel all warm and fuzzy about taking this job.”

Well, that’s tough. Would you accept an offer of marriage from someone who won’t spend enough time with you to really make you feel loved? Don’t be in such a hurry to tie the knot before you can judge whether your suitor is for real. If an employer isn’t willing to invest time to assure you that a job offer is real, then it’s probably not worth risking your old job.

In the end, you must use your best judgment and decide whether to make the leap. If your gut tells you something is wrong, listen to your gut.

While my objective here is to help you land a great new job, my first concern is that you should not get hurt in the process. You must learn how to recognize a risky job offer before it blows up in your face.

Lately I’m getting a surprising number of questions from readers about job offers that explode — after the candidate relies on them to make career and financial decisions. I think employers, HR departments, and staffing firms have crossed a critical line that’s telling us they’re either stupid and inept, or that they’re callous and lack integrity. When the employer “takes back” a job offer for any reason, the applicant usually cannot “take back” a resignation. In one case, a reader cancelled her lease, moved her family, and wound up homeless because a personnel jockey instructed her husband to quit his job and move to a new city — then the jockey reneged on the promise of the new job.

I’m collecting stories about exploding job offers because I’m worried this is a dangerous new trend. I think we should chronicle and discuss it, to help you avoid having job offers blow up in your face.

Got a story about exploding job offers — or do you know someone who does? Please post it. Has an employer ever instructed you to quit your old job before giving you a written offer, or has an offer ever been rescinded? What did you do? How would you advise the reader in this week’s Q&A?

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Should I let my millennial kid make a huge career mistake?

In the January 11, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we talk about where parents fit in the career equation.

Question

My twenty-something daughter has worked here in the U.S. for three years in her first job out of college as a content manager for a website that focuses on business and culture on another continent.

She has the chance to transfer there to further establish the brand. This is her dream assignment, but it comes with a huge price. The CEO has proposed that she take a $12,000 pay cut, citing the lower cost of living in the new location. Her father is furious and I’m torn as I want her to pursue her dream, but not if it means being taken advantage of. Mr. Headhunter, please offer some advice here. Thank you!

Nick’s Reply

jumpContrary to the title of this Q&A, you’re not really afraid your millennial daughter is making a career mistake. You’re just afraid that you’re afraid she is. So I give you credit for starting a candid discussion about this, and for giving your daughter a chance.

As a parent, I understand your trepidation. Here’s what I suggest you consider.

This is your daughter’s decision, not yours. If you press her not to do it, all you’re telling her is that you don’t support her choice. She’s not going to hear much else, no matter how much sense you make.

People her age are wired to take risks, and thank God for that, because it’s in our youth that we can best afford to take risks. We have time to recover if a choice turns out wrong. We don’t have a house, a family, and big financial obligations. (By the way: This is not a challenge specific to millennials. I don’t think millennials are really any different from any other new generation.)

But please consider this: Without taking risks in youth, we never get the chance to achieve our dreams — or to learn anything that matters.

The CEO probably has a point. I’ve recruited and placed people at lower salaries for just the same reasons: lower cost of living and big opportunity. It’s always up to the job candidate. Some are in a position to take the risk, others are not.

A lot rides on the credibility and integrity of the CEO and the company. Is the CEO just trying to take advantage of her, or is the salary trade-off legit? Only your daughter can judge this. If I were her, I’d ask for one more meeting with the CEO to discuss this.

How to Say It:
“I’ll be taking on a big new challenge in this new location. I need to talk with you one more time to make sure I understand the risks, rewards, and challenges of this job. If I take it on, I want to perform at my best and produce a huge success for our company. What are the milestones? What are the rewards if I achieve them? What do you see as the risks for me?”

In Fearless Job Hunting, Book 7: Win The Salary Games, I discuss how to make a business case to a CEO about how much you deserve to be paid: “How can I avoid a salary cut?”, pp. 7-10. There’s more than one way to get some leverage:

“Express what you want, and suggest that salary isn’t the only component of an acceptable compensation package.”

The milestones must be set in writing and they must be objectively measurable — without interpretation. If she achieves X, then the reward is Y. Because this is a big new gig, there should be a timeline of several milestones — deliverables she’s responsible for — and what she will get in return if she makes them.

Without this, I’d never take a job to establish a brand anywhere. This is the crux of any business plan. My biggest concern — whether the job is in South America, Australia or Biloxi — is the business plan. What is it? If there is no clear plan, then I’d never take the job. Of course, your daughter should be part of developing the plan. If there isn’t one, she should volunteer to help produce it before she takes the job.

Check They promised a raise but won’t deliver to learn how to structure milestones in a good job offer.

I’d want to see a third-party report about cost of living in the new location. What’s the CEO basing the salary cut on? It may be legit — or it may be an indefensible estimate. Practically speaking, your daughter should undertake on her own to figure out what it will really cost her to live in the new location. The Internet makes this kind of research pretty easy. Why not help her prepare a budget for living there? Check real estate, rents and cost of groceries. Maybe it’s not as bad as you think. Then you’re helping, not hindering.

Do not make your daughter’s choice for her, or make her feel you think she’s wrong. My kids and yours must make their own choices — or they learn nothing. If she make the wrong choice, but she’s smart and capable, it will not destroy her life. It will probably make her stronger — and lead her to a better opportunity the next time. She’ll gain wisdom, and you will gain more of her respect.

Even if you conclude from hard data that this is going to cost her money, that’s not justification for telling her not to do it. What you consider a price for a bad decision might be something else altogether for her — the price of growing up. I’m afraid that too many young people today are not willing to pay that price — and they never grow up. I think our nervous-nelly society is too quick to deprive our kids of the chance to learn the price of success.

Then, of course, there’s the distinct possibility that this risk will be the start of a great new part of her life — and she will enjoy the rewards of taking a big risk on her own. Imagine what it would do for her self-confidence and acumen — to take on such a huge challenge.

As a father, I’d be more concerned with her personal safety. No matter where a son or daughter of mine might go next, the first thing I’d want to look into is, how safe is the place, and what can my kid do to be as safe as possible? I think that except in the worst areas, it’s always possible to take measures to improve personal safety.

Ask her what you can do to help her succeed. My guess is your daughter is pretty smart. Let her know you believe that and that you trust her judgment, and that you respect her aspirations. Then give her a hug and let her go on her way. If you raised her right (Yes, give yourself some credit.), she will figure it all out.

Then book a flight to go visit her in about six months, so she can show you how she’s pulling it all off on her own.

Now I’m going to tell you what prompted me to answer you as I have. When my first book was published, I wrote an Acknowledgments section for it. At the very end, I said this about my own two kids, who were one and three at the time:

“As for Luke and Emma, well, when you’re old enough to read this, I hope you’ll also just be learning that it’s okay to take risks to do what’s important to you (and I hope your father will be smart enough to know when to get out of the way and let you).”

It’s been hard to take my own advice, and I frankly can’t believe I had the presence of mind so many years ago to write that. Those words have kept me in line, and they’ve freed my kids to make me proud of them.

I wish you, your daughter and your husband the best.

When your kids are ready to leap tall buildings, do you put away the measuring stick? Do you let them do the calculations and decide whether to leap? What did you teach your kids? What’s the best way to be a helpful parent?

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How to work with headhunters

In the December 22, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we talk about how to work with headhunters.

Is it good to work with many headhunters? That’s a question I am asked a lot. You might be surprised at my answer — and at the risks you face if you don’t know what you’re doing. These two Q&As are from “Section 2: Working With Headhunters to Get Ahead” of the best-selling How To Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you, pp. 52-53.

christmas-treeQuestion

How many headhunters should I work with at a time? And how do you gauge when it’s time to increase your exposure to more of them?

Nick’s Reply

Don’t confuse real headhunters with people who solicit your resume blindly. These might include employment agencies, job shops and HR recruiters who work within corporations. (See They’re not headhunters.)

Many of these not-headhunters may approach you. Giving them your resume indiscriminately is like giving your credit card number to every telemarketer who calls. You won’t like having lots of recruiters working with you, especially if two or more of them give your resume to the same company.

Don’t let a headhunter’s conflict of interest cost you a job

If, somehow, multiple headhunters approach you at the same time, then you need to know just one thing: Do they each represent a different company?

If yes, then you’d be looking at different job opportunities and it’s fine to work with all of them at once. There should be no overlap in their assignments and no conflict for you.

If there is an overlap, then one company is unwisely using multiple contingency headhunters to fill the same position. (To learn more about contingency headhunters, see How should headhunters fit into your job search?) The company is putting its headhunters into competition with one another. That’s like assigning two sales reps to sell to the same prospect — the company reveals poor judgment and sloppy hiring practices.

Even so, you can still entertain an opportunity, but you would be wise to let just one headhunter present you to the company. Otherwise, you will likely be rejected out of hand because the company could wind up in the middle of a fee fight.

Who would be due the fee if you were hired? If the company interviews you via two headhunters — even if it’s for two completely different jobs — and then hires you, it could owe the fee twice. Don’t get in the middle of it. Work with only one headhunter at a time with respect to a particular employer.

Know what you’re doing

So the answer to your question has two parts. First, understand that if a lot of “headhunters” are soliciting you, it’s probably not wise to work with them because they have not carefully selected you. They are merely interested in blasting your resume around, hoping for a hit. Second, if two or more headhunters contact you about different jobs at different companies, it’s fine to work with all of them — as long as you are sure they are not going to run into one another. This is why it’s so important to control your resume. You must insist that each headhunter take no action on opportunities other than those you discuss specifically.

Question

Is there a way to get multiple headhunters to call on me about legitimate job opportunities?

Nick’s Reply

There are indeed ways to get on the radar to attract multiple good headhunters who want to talk with you about multiple unrelated jobs at different companies. If you want to be visible to good headhunters and lure their calls, then you must use bait. This isn’t easy and it’s not for everyone. (Headhunters don’t want everyone.)

Good bait includes:

  • Writing industry articles in respected publications. Headhunters read these to identify the opinion-makers in an industry.
  • Getting noticed in the professional industry press. The only thing better than writing articles is articles written about you. Headhunters notice.
  • Speaking at a conference or industry event. Headhunters sometimes start searches by turning to prominent sources, and that includes prominent events.
  • Being the subject of respectful discussion among notable members of your profession. Headhunters tap into such dialogues in person, online and via e-mail. Professionals tend to talk about the people they respect. That’s who headhunters want.

The quality of the venue matters a lot. For example, just because you blog or someone blogged about you doesn’t mean headhunters will find you. The venue might be big or niche, but its reputation must be solid.

Get the idea? You need to get yourself out there. That’s how headhunters find you. (See Good Headhunters: They search for living resumes.) And that’s the crux of the Ask The Headhunter approach to job hunting.

Don’t appear desperate

Most people who want headhunters’ attention take the heavily advertised path, which usually leads nowhere. They promote themselves brazenly. They send their resumes to lots of headhunters using one of the many “headhunter directories” published in paper format or online. I think you’d be wasting your time.

The odds that a headhunter is going to place you are small. If it makes you feel good to flood the headhunting industry with your resume, that’s up to you. My concern is that you will lull yourself into thinking you are conducting a job search when all you’re doing is throwing darts at a wall. And you will make yourself seem desperate for attention. Good headhunters don’t pursue desperate people.


I hope you enjoyed this excerpt from How To Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you!

Want more?

Don’t miss these 62 in-your-face questions answered in a 130-page guide that reads like a series of conversations over a cup of coffee with the headhunter who put the profit equation back into job hunting and hiring. Includes:

  • Why don’t headhunters return my calls?
  • What’s the secret to getting on a headhunter’s list?
  • How can I become the headhunter’s #1 candidate?
  • How can I find a good headhunter?
  • And much, much more!

caneWhat are your rules for working with headhunters? Have you been burned?

A very Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Happy Hanukkah to you and yours — and anything else you celebrate!

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Ask this question before you agree to an interview

In the December 15, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader complains that employers hide the money.

Question

On an almost weekly basis, headhunters ping me about technical jobs they want to fill, but they won’t tell me what a job will pay. Then we get down to the brass tacks, and rarely do any of these corporations want to pay what I know I’m worth for what I bring to the table.

lips-sealedMy skill set wasn’t developed by being average, and I will not accept anything average. I make my employer lots of money. I impact the bottom line and that will cost you.

It’s interesting to watch companies lose money because they employed campers instead of climbers. I’m willing to do the job for those employers, but when I tell them they need to pay me $25k more than they’re paying the campers, they squeal. Meanwhile, millions are being lost right in front of their eyes. Yet they expect me to interview without disclosing what a job will pay. Their lips are sealed until after the interviewing is done. What’s up with that?

Nick’s Reply

It’s pretty astonishing how many consumers and employers are tire-kickers. They won’t spend what’s necessary on the product, service, or hire that they want. But they will keep looking, usually until they find a less costly solution — and by that time, they convince themselves it’s sufficient.

Employers view new hires as an expense, not an investment. An expense costs you. (See Stand Out: How to be the profitable hire.) A good investment generates a good return. It seems few employers look for returns — they’re just trying to fill jobs with bodies (that don’t cost much). Then they wonder why their business is mediocre if not failing.

I think the prudent approach is to have a simple protocol for limiting the time you spend with headhunters. In my opinion, it has to involve an up-front discussion about salary range. (See Only naive wusses are afraid to bring up money.) Many people think it’s too forward or inappropriate to ask what the salary is — and employers love that.

It’s the old foot-in-the-door sales approach. The more time and effort employers can get you to spend talking to them, the more chance you’ll compromise on the money later on, to justify all the time you spent.

I say bunk to that. We all know money is the first bridge, so cross it immediately. Don’t let it seem complicated. When an employer or headhunter solicits you for a job, here’s how to proceed. Always ask this question before you agree to do an interview:

How to Say It
“So, what’s the pay like?”

Yes, that’s all it takes: an off-handed, casual, natural, obvious question. (That tip is part of “The Pool-Man Strategy: How to ask for more money,” in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 7: Win The Salary Games, pp. 13-15.)


BIG-FJH-PKGGot a job-hunting friend who’s terrified of job hunting? Fearless Job Hunting: The Complete Collection makes a great gift! Order now and save 30%! Use discount code XMAS and save 30% at checkout! (This limited offer applies only to Fearless Job Hunting: The Complete Collection.)


Would you take a nice-looking bottle of wine to the checkout counter at a liquor store if it doesn’t have a price tag on it? Of course not. So, why would you agree to spend hours talking about a job whose salary range you don’t know? You might have to put that job back on the shelf, after you’ve wasted precious time and energy.

When an employer declines to disclose the salary range for a job, it’s time to end the discussion. Don’t be afraid to ask the salary before you agree to interview. (Of course, you should keep your own salary under wraps!)

You have no idea what the job pays? Then why are you interviewing for it? What’s the big secret?? How do you handle situations where an employer refuses to tell you what the salary is for a job?

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References: How employers bungle a competitive edge

In the December 8, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader gets down on reference checking.

Question

I’ve come to the conclusion that asking for references is about the dumbest thing a company can do in the hiring process. First, I believe that any prior employer is only obligated to give the dates you worked and at what salary. They don’t like to give any qualitative assessment because there are potential liability issues involved. Second, who is going to give a personal reference that would not describe you in laudatory terms? I think references are just another personnel department make-work project! What do you think?

referencesNick’s Reply

One of the very best ways to size up a job candidate is to consider the opinions of her professional community. Employers who ignore peer review take unnecessary risks when hiring. But that’s where today’s reference-checking practices have led us.

Incompetent reference checking

Asking for references seems dumb because it has been made trivial; so trivial that companies routinely outsource reference checks rather than do it themselves. (See Automated Reference Checks: You should be very worried.) They’re going to judge you based on a routine set of questions that someone else asks a bunch of people on a list. How ludicrous is that?

Employers have bought into the idea that a reference check is like a credit check, but it’s not. A credit check digs up objective information: numbers, loan payment dates, defaults.

A reference check is largely subjective. The source of information isn’t a bricks-and-mortar bank that’s required to divulge facts about your accounts. A reference source is a mushy human being who may be in a good mood or a bad mood; who may know you well, or not. The reference checker must know the context — the industry, the profession, the work, the community — or he can’t possibly understand what to ask or what the comments really mean. This is why most reference checks are simply incompetent, if not dangerous.

reference-checkerThe “reference and investigations” industry may be able to turn up criminal records and such, but you can’t tell me that a researcher is going to elicit a subtle judgment of a job candidate by calling a name on a list. Worse, if the information that’s collected is erroneous, why would such a reference checker care? He’s not accountable to anyone. The employer that buys it doesn’t care and isn’t going to ask you to explain. To borrow a phrase, outsourcing reference checks is like washing your hands with rubber gloves on. If you’re going to feel anything, you must get your hands dirty!

Real reference checking

There is no finesse in reference checking any more — not for most employers. A real reference check is done quietly and responsibly, by talking to sources that a manager tracks down on her own by using her network of professional contacts. These are candid references; comments made off the record within a trusted professional relationship. That’s where you’ll find the true measure of a candidate.

Did I just break five laws? That’s only because the skeevy industry that has grown around reference investigations requires regulation. It’s because employers are no longer good at teasing apart credible references from spiteful or sugar-coated ones. They want to put the legal liability for making judgments of character and reputation on someone else.

There’s a better way to do it, and it’s time-honored among honorable businesspeople. The person doing the reference checking must be savvy and responsible. She must know what she’s doing. A greenhorn human resources clerk is out. In fact, the only person who should be doing such a check is the hiring manager. The most candid discussions will take place between managers who know their industry, their professional community, and the issues in their business. Where a manager might not open up to an “investigator,” she’s likely to share information with a peer. Credible, useful information comes from credible, trustworthy sources. You can’t buy it.

If it’s true that hiring the best people matters, then real reference checks give an employer a very powerful competitive edge. Outsource reference checks, or do them ineptly, and you’ve bungled your company’s future.

Reference checking is a community event

The reason — other than legal — that companies don’t do effective checks is that human resources (HR) departments simply don’t have the kinds of contacts in the professional community that could yield legitimate, credible references. And that brings into question HR’s entire role in the recruitment, selection and hiring process. If you don’t have good enough connections in the professional community to do that kind of reference check, how could you possibly recruit from that community? Both tasks require the exact same kind of contacts and relationships. It’s all about the employer’s network.

accountableJob hunters correctly worry that bad references might cost them a job. That’s a real problem. The question is, is the bad reference justified? If it is, then perhaps it should cost you a job. Don’t shoot the messenger. Take a good look at yourself, and recognize that the truth has consequences in your social and professional community. (But all is not lost. See How can you fight bad references?)

It should not be illegal to rely on credible opinions about you. By the same token, managers must be attuned to vengeful references, and take appropriate measures to verify them. But regulating candor is no solution. When we count on the law to protect us from all information, we must expect to get hurt by a lack of good information.

If I were to check your references, I’d get good, solid information about you. And I might not ever call anyone on the list you gave me. I’ll use my contacts to triangulate on your reputation. (You might be surprised at who I talk to. See The Ministry of Reference Checks.) Will someone try to torpedo you? Possibly, but it’s quite rare. More likely, I’ll turn something up that makes me want to get to know you better; to assess you more carefully.

The trouble is, good reference checks are rarely done. Hence, most reference information is pure garbage, as you suggest. And this hurts good workers just as it hurts good employers. In the end, all we have to go on is the opinion of our professional community. Stifle it, and the community suffers the consequences.


References are your competitive edge

References are such an important tool to help you land a job that I can’t emphasize enough that you must plan, prepare and use references to give you an edge. In Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3: Get In The Door (way ahead of your competition) I discuss just how strategic references are.

First, learn how to launch a reference:

“The best… reference is when a reputable person in your field refers you to an employer. In other words, the referrer ‘sends you’… to his peer and suggests she hire you.” (pp. 23-24)

Second, use preemptive references:

A “preemptive reference is one who, when the employer is ready to talk to references, calls the employer before being called. Such a call packs a powerful punch. It tells the employer that the reference isn’t just positive, it’s enthusiastic.” (p. 24)


The truth matters. Legislating against the opinions of others about us is, well, stupid. Far better to manage those opinions and to be responsible about them. If you’re a manager, it’s also far better to take responsibility and check applicants’ references yourself. Don’t let HR do it. What do references really mean?

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You’re The Headhunter!

In the December 1, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, you are in control!

Step right up…

Every week, I answer your questions in the Ask The Headhunter e-mail newsletter, and then we adjourn here, where we discuss and hash out the issues and options behind the Q&A. I like to tell people that the advice, comments and insights you share on the blog are just as much a part of Ask The Headhunter as anything I write.

got-adviceThis week I want to try something different. Rather than me answering questions, I’d like to invite you to be The Headhunter — I’d like you to deliver the advice!

Please read the three short questions below, submitted by other readers, and put yourself in my shoes. What advice would you give these folks? What issues and options would you suggest these troubled readers focus on to solve their problems?

Then I’ll put myself in your shoes and add my comments, and we can all chew on it together. Maybe this will turn into a new feature — and we’ll be able to cover many more Q&As each week! (You should see the backlog in my e-mail folder!)

I’ve seeded each Q&A with some relevant resources to help you get started, but I’m counting on you to provide the real advice!

When you post your advice below, please indicate which question you’re responding to — A, B or C. Feel free to answer more than one! Please include links to any favorite Ask The Headhunter resources you think are relevant!


Question A

I sent my resume and cover letter in response to a job ad. The company says they’re interested, yet of course I have to fill out an online application. Does anyone really think I know the day I graduated school or left a job 20 years ago? Or my starting and ending salary? Worse yet — they want my GPA and my SAT score?

I put one trillion for the SAT score since it had to have a number. Of course, they also wanted a specific salary — not even a range. I left out my Social Security Number and I don’t care if it loses me the job — I am not throwing that information all over the Internet to every company that’s hiring for a job!

Is there any way around this when you can’t proceed without providing all this insane amount of detail?

What’s your reply?

You’re The Headhunter this week. Please post your advice to Question A!

Some References: Those pesky job application forms, Wanted: HR exec with the guts to not ask for your SSN.

 


Question B

My daughter was offered a job. Had to be drug tested. On the weekend she received an e-mail instructing her to report to orientation. She gave notice at her old job. Then she called with a question about where to report, and was told they didn’t mean to send her the notice of orientation because she flunked the drug test. Now she is going to be out of her old job without a new one. What can she do? She quit, thinking everything was okay.

What’s your reply?

Be The Headhunter this week. Please post your advice to Question B!

Reference: Pop Quiz: Can an employer take back a job offer?

 


Question C

I passed a phone interview and now I’m invited to “meet the team” at an upcoming technical conference. They haven’t offered to pay the registration fee and I, being unemployed, can’t afford it. I believe they are well-meaning but insensitive. I don’t want to embarrass myself by telling them my problem. How best to finesse this?

What’s your reply?

You’re The Headhunter this week. Please add your reply to Question C!

Reference: Why employers should pay to interview you.

 


This week, you’re The Headhunter! I hope you’ll take over and respond to the three questions above. (This is not a test! You’re hired to come back next week whether you participate or not! No SSN or salary history required!)

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Get the manager’s resume before you interview for the job

In the November 17, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader wants a resume from the employer.

Question

Don’t you think jobs should have “resumes?” Assuming an interview has been scheduled, should an applicant ask for a formal, printed description of the job to retain and review before a job offer is made, or only after an offer is presented?

submit-resumeHere’s what I’ve never understood. Employers insist on having my resume before an interview. But all the applicant has is a scant job posting, or sometimes only a general verbal description of the job. It seems having a formal, written job description would help the applicant, just like a resume helps an employer. The applicant could look closely at whether there’s a good match.

Should the prospective employer be expected to provide this type of document to the applicant? If it’s not provided, should I just roll the dice?

Nick’s Reply

You’re raising an excellent question. (But I’ve got a bigger question. Read on.) If HR needs to know all about you before an interview, doesn’t it owe you all the information about the job? (See Now THIS is a job description!)

Recently a reader told me that after an employer decided to hire him, it learned he had an advanced degree that he did not report on the resume. (He’d heard it might actually hurt his chances, so he left the degree off the resume. So it was an omission, not a falsehood.) The employer rescinded the offer because the applicant “lied”!

What happens when an employer fails to disclose all the information about a job until after an offer is made? If it’s never happened to you, I’m sure you know someone who accepted a job, only to learn it wasn’t what they interviewed for.

Many employers don’t seem very concerned that the job you interview for is not the job in the ad. This is even more important when a recruiter solicits you for a job — they usually tell you very little, except that the job is “perfect” for you. Who has ever gone on a job interview suggested by a recruiter and found that the job was “exactly” as the recruiter described it? (Gimme a break! I’m still laughing! Check out Roasting the job description.)

Where’s the job’s resume?

I think it’s prudent to ask for the formal, written job description prior to the interview, “for your records,” especially when you’re dealing with a recruiter. They want your resume, right? What’s the difference?

I’ll bet many HR people would decline to provide it because it’s “proprietary” or “not set in stone.” But, again — they want your resume, which is just as proprietary, and they want it to include everything.

How are you supposed to consider the job without the formal, written job description? What risks are you taking when you don’t have the complete story? In many cases, the big risk is that the hiring manager hasn’t a complete idea of what the job really is — and you’ll be judged on whatever performance criteria the manager invents after the fact.

Now, I’m not saying every job should be exhaustively defined. In fact, I like jobs that will evolve — but the manager and employer should make that clear from the start. Pretending doesn’t cut it, a manager who doesn’t really know what she needs doesn’t cut it, and obscuring the holes in a job definition isn’t fair. (See Don’t suck canal water if you’re confused.)

Where’s the manager’s resume?

But now let’s get really serious and question authority. Let’s make the leap to the bigger question this all begs: Why don’t employers give you the hiring manager’s resume — and resumes of people you’ll be working with? After all, you’re going to be throwing in with them. Don’t you have an obligation to your career to know who they are before you sign up?

Imagine. Because your success and your career will hinge enormously on who those people really are. Don’t you want to see their credentials?

There are several questions you must ask an employer — particularly after it’s made you a job offer. That’s when negotiating power shifts to you, because now they’ve established that they want you. What comes next is working out the terms, and one of the terms is information about your new co-workers. Politely ask to see their creds. (For more about this critical point in the interview process, see Deal-breaker questions to ask employers. Don’t be one of those job candidates who miss their chance to protect their future.)

I’d love to know how employers respond to this, because they make the hiring process so irrational and one-sided that it’s actually absurd. (For more about my take on how employers recruit, see Respecting The Candidate.) A job is a partnership, so let’s see more due diligence from job applicants, and more transparency from employers before a hire is made.

Don’t you think fewer interviews would wind up being a waste of time if you had the spec sheet for the job in hand first? Does it make sense to get the team’s resumes, too, before you meet with them to interview?

Do employers and recruiters give you clear, detailed job descriptions — as detailed as the resume they want from you? Do you ask for them? Are the jobs you interview for exactly as they were represented to begin with? What happens when they’re not? Finally: What do you really know about the manager and members of the team you’re joining?

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600 Editions: The Best of Ask The Headhunter!

In the November 10, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we look at the best of 600 editions!

Question

I’ve been reading your Ask The Headhunter newsletter for a long time. Before that, I remember your forum on The Motley Fool going back into the 1990s! I have no idea how many questions you’ve answered in all those years, but I wanted to ask you — is there any topic you have not covered? What’s your favorite topic or Q&A? Thanks for sharing so much good advice all these years and for doing it for free!

Nick’s Reply

Thanks for following Ask The Headhunter for so long! I stopped counting the questions I’ve answered after 40,000. (Yes, I typed all the replies myself! Ouch!) I’ve been saving your note for a good occasion, and this is it.

Nick5bI published the first Ask The Headhunter Newsletter on September 20, 2002. Ask The Headhunter first went online on January 17, 1995 — on Prodigy, if any of you remember that partnership between IBM and Sears Roebuck! But the newsletter actually debuted in November 1999, when TechRepublic licensed a Q&A feature from me for several years. That version of the newsletter was daily!

I had such a good time producing it that I decided to continue it on my own — and over 10,000 subscribers immediately followed from TechRepublic. Today that list is huge, and this marks the 600th weekly edition. I couldn’t do any of this without the great questions from subscribers!

I don’t really have any favorite editions of my own, but there are several Ask The Headhunter articles and newsletters that I think are fundamental to what ATH is all about — so I thought it might be worth re-capping some of the “best of Ask The Headhunter.” I hope you enjoy this as much I’ve enjoyed putting it together! (And I hope you get a kick out of the series of mugshots I’ve used in the newsletter through the years!)

The Basics

If you’re new to Ask The Headhunter, this is a great place to start: The Headhunter’s Basics: Job hunting with the headhunter. This core set of articles explains:

  • What’s wrong with the employment system
  • How to use the strategy headhunters use — yourself!
  • What employers really want — and it’s not your interview skills!
  • The mistakes that will sink your job search
  • How to be the profitable hire that all good employers want

Resume Blasphemy

Nick1cI think my best article might be one I avoided writing for years. People kept asking, How can I write a really great resume that will get me a job?

I’m not a fan of resumes. In fact, I think a resume is the worst crutch you can use when job hunting. But I realized that if I can’t answer this very popular question in some useful way, I have no right to publish Ask The Headhunter. Resume Blasphemy challenges you in a way that — if you do this exercise thoughtfully — will make you throw your resume away and forever change how you search for a job.

Free?

I’d like to set one thing straight. Yes, Ask The Headhunter is and continues to be free — the website, the blog, the newsletter. Literally thousands of pages of advice, tips and insights about job hunting, hiring and success at work.

But some stuff you do have to pay for: my PDF books, which organize my advice around specific topics in depth and detail. These books help offset the cost of producing all the free content you find on Ask The Headhunter — but so do the many clients who have licensed Ask The Headhunter features over the years. I’m grateful to every client and customer who has ever spent a buck on what I write!

Which brings us to perhaps the most powerful Ask The Headhunter advice of all.

Eliminate job search obstacles

nick2When I compiled the 251-page PDF book Fearless Job Hunting, my goal was to help job seekers realize that job hunting is not about “following the steps.” If following steps worked, everybody could get a job easily and quickly. What I’ve learned over the years is that your success depends on knowing what to do when you encounter one of a small number of daunting obstacles that get in your way. Don’t let these stop you from landing the job you want!

Most of the time, the biggest obstacle you face in your job search is Human Resources departments, which seem to go out of their way to block, stop, and abuse you. The best newsletter I wrote about this is Why HR should get out of the hiring business. I think some of my best advice about how to go around HR is from this edition of the newsletter: Should I accept HR’s rejection letter?

Getting in the door

Speaking of throwing out your resume and busting past HR, this is one of the simplest, most powerful methods for landing a job that you’ll find on Ask The Headhunter: Skip The Resume: Triangulate to get in the door. It’ll take you out of the silly “job hunting” mode HR wants you in — and it’ll get you talking to the people who will actually bring you into a company as a new hire!

One of the Fearless Job Hunting books, Book 3: Get in The Door (way ahead of your competition) goes into lots more detail about this.

Oh, those job interviews!

nickhat1cSo much has been written about what to say and do in job interviews that today it’s all one big rehash. Virtually every career pundit regurgitates the same old ideas that have been around for decades — ideas that reek of personnel jockeys who want to “process” you rather than hire you.

This article is so obvious that you’ll “get it” instantly: The Single Best Interview Question… And The Best Answer. But beware: Doing this kind of preparation to win a job offer is a lot of work. And if you’re not willing to do the work to win the job, you don’t deserve the job!

No one has said it better than long-time Ask The Headhunter subscriber Ray Stoddard:

“The great news about your recommendations is that they work. The good news for those of us who use them is that few people are really willing to implement what you recommend, giving those of us who do an edge.”

Arrghhh! I took the wrong job!

My goal all these years has been to help you land and keep the right job. But what no one else tells you is how to avoid the wrong jobs!

Before you accept a new job, check It’s the people, Stupid and — yuck — Don’t suck canal water. I keep telling you that the #1 reason people go job hunting is because they took the wrong job to begin with. Don’t fall into that trap!

nicknew4Everybody wants more money!

Of course, no matter what anybody says about the importance of job satisfaction, nobody’s happy without the money. Everybody would like more money — but few people know how to ask for it so the answer will be YES.

The ONLY way to ask for a higher job offer is not for the meek. It’s as big a challenge as proving you’re worth hiring. But, hey — I never said Ask The Headhunter is the easy way to the job you want. It’s just the best way I know.

The bottom line

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes, which once led me to the realization that, as humans, our biggest problem is our hesitation. Life is short. I try to remind myself of this every day: You’ll be dead soon. It’s how I get on with life and enjoy the choices I get to make!

I hope Ask The Headhunter helps you belly up to the bar to make the choices you face — to enjoy the results of the best and to learn from the rest.

The Best of Ask The Headhunter

Thanks for subscribing and for being a part of Ask The Headhunter, whether you’ve been around from the start or you just dropped in!

The best of Ask The Headhunter isn’t in any of the newsletters or in any of my articles. The best of Ask The Headhunter is the wonderful community of people who continue to gather here to share their stories, advice, wisdom and more questions from their own experience. That’s you!

Thanks to you all!


And to prove it, I’d like to offer you a Special 600th Edition Thank You. If you’d like to purchase any of the Ask The Headhunter PDF books, when you check out, use discount code=BIG600 to save 25% off your purchase! (This limited offer is good only through this week!)


If I may ask you a 600th edition favor:

Please tell your friends about Ask The Headhunter — encourage them to subscribe and join us every week!

As for questions we’ve never covered, this is where to post them! I invite you to ask the questions you want answers to about job hunting, hiring, and success at work!

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Lee Hecht Harrison: A failure of integrity in the HR world

In the November 3, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we try to get to the root of why employers routinely abuse job applicants.

Ever wonder where HR departments learn to mistreat and abuse you when you apply for jobs, then disappear behind a veil of impersonal doubletalk and officious sanctimony?

integrityThe answer lies in who they turn to for “best practices” and “HR policies.”

An entire HR consulting industry teaches HR departments around the world how to behave, and HR in turn trains you to apply for jobs and tolerate increasing levels of abuse. Curiously, according to Google Finance, most of the top HR consulting firms are privately held. Little is known about how they operate, until now, when an odd copyright violation revealed some of the inner workings of Lee Hecht Harrison (LHH), a unit of Adecco, “the world’s #1 employment services firm.”

What’s copyright got to do with bad HR behavior?

From time to time, I deal with scofflaw publishers who steal copyrighted Ask The Headhunter content. When they realize they’ve been caught, I quickly get a nervous phone call and profuse apologies. Statutory damages for distributing a copyrighted work can be as high as $150,000 per incident, which means if you give copies to just 7 people without permission, it could cost you over a million bucks plus attorney fees. To a content licensing business like Ask The Headhunter, copyright is a serious matter. Nonetheless, my policy is to resolve violations quickly and amicably when possible. Contrite violators make this easy most of the time. A sincere phone call goes a long way.

A few weeks ago, an Ask The Headhunter subscriber tipped me off to a rip-off:

lhh-tip-off
The culprit was Michael Schumacher, an LHH Senior Vice President who posted a slightly modified version of an old ATH article to LHH’s LinkedIn Group for the company’s “clients and alumni.” He could have paid for the article — like LHH’s clients pay for LHH’s materials. Instead, he put his own name on it.

The ATH subscriber concurrently put Schumacher on notice that he’d been exposed.

You’d think Schumacher would immediately pick up the phone and call me to apologize, and to take down the stolen article. Instead, Schumacher hid the ripped-off article behind LinkedIn’s members-only wall and hunkered down.

You can’t hide from social media

“If you are represented in the virtual world, what kind of impression are you making?” cautions a LHH report for job seekers. “In this age of technology, not being in tune with the times could even appear unprofessional and possibly be a mark against you.”

This is where the underpinnings of “global” HR behavior came to light — as one of the world’s leading HR advisory firms revealed what “best practices” in the HR world are all about. Pay attention, because this is the root of the culture that mistreats and abuses you when you apply for a job.

I want you to see how a simple copyright violation revealed how a top HR consulting firm operates. The story features a cast of characters we couldn’t dream up:

  • A president whose company’s product is intellectual property — who dispatches “damage control” to cover up IP theft by his company.
  • A top HR executive at a corporate outplacement firm that advises clients to have LinkedIn profiles — who has no LinkedIn profile.
  • An SVP in charge of “Operational Best Practices” — who steals a competitor’s copyrighted content and passes it off to clients as his own, then hides the evidence after it’s already leaked into the social media.

A social media bust

I love social media. It keeps everyone honest because everything a business does today quickly becomes public. You’d think that a company whose business is teaching “best practices” to HR departments would know that.

After I learned of the rip-off, I waited to hear from Schumacher or someone at his company. They knew that I knew, but no one contacted me. So I published Lee Hecht Harrison rips off Ask The Headhunter, an article that quickly made the rounds of social media. Among the items are tweets from a leading HR writer and critic.

lhh-laurie-tweetsLaurie Ruettimann even contacted the president of LHH, Peter Alcide, via LinkedIn. Her style is inimitable.

lhh-lauriie-linkedin

You’d think Alcide, manager of a company whose revenues depend on its IP (intellectual property), would realize how big his problem was and immediately call me to apologize and make amends.

The policy and best practice is damage control

Instead, Alcide revealed the company’s duck-and-cover policy that Schumacher was already following. Peter Alcide ordered up “damage control.”

lhh-to-laurie

Except LHH’s president sent this order to Ruettimann by mistake, and she forwarded it to me. The bungled e-mail apparently refers to LHH’s Dallas/Fort Worth Area Managing Director, Russell Williams, Schumacher’s boss.

What’s all this got to do with your travails with HR? It’s what Lee Hecht Harrison and a host of HR consultancies teach their clients: how to avoid accountability and personal contact. Alcide wasn’t concerned about damage his company caused — or how to make amends. He was concerned only about covering up his company’s bad behavior. The content rip-off was public, but there would be no public mea culpa.

At this point, you’d think Williams would have immediately contacted me, if only to contain the problem. Instead, he handed it off to HR.

Hiding behind HR

Now I offer a challenge to you, dear readers. After an employer recruits you, wastes your time in hours of interviews, gathers volumes of personal and private information that you must provide under threat of rejection for “being unreasonable” — you’re left hoping for a personal call about the outcome of the hiring process. What happens?

HR sends you an impersonal form letter to blow you off.

I couldn’t make this stuff up. LHH’s next action was to send me the equivalent of the form letter you receive when HR blows you off after mistreating and abusing you.

lhh-letter(click to view full size)

That’s what I received from “Pamela Jones, EVP, Human Resources and Legal” at Lee Hecht Harrison. But don’t bother looking up Pam Jones or Pamela Jones associated with Lee Hecht Harrison or Adecco on LinkedIn. Contrary to LHH’s advice to its clients that a LinkedIn profile is a must in today’s business world, LHH’s top HR executive isn’t on LinkedIn.

Are we starting to see the connection between what this HR consulting company promotes and gets paid for, and how its top executives behave?

  • Peter Alcide, the LHH president who ordered damage control so LHH’s clients wouldn’t find out, hid behind damage control.
  • Michael Schumacher, the guy who stole my article, hid behind LinkedIn’s firewall.
  • Pamela Jones, the corporate lawyer who put on her HR hat, and hid under it.

They all hid behind the same veil that LHH teaches its corporate HR clients to draw between themselves and job applicants. That’s the epic failure of integrity in HR today — “best practices” on display from “the world’s #1 employment services firm.”

And you wonder where HR learns how to mistreat and abuse you while disappearing into a fog of self-serving bureaucracy? LHH’s top HR executive is also its lawyer!

Where do dismissive HR policies come from?

What does a copyright violation have to do with your experiences applying for jobs? Lee Hecht Harrison is a key player in the HR world. According to its Google Finance profile, its parent company Adecco “provides career and leadership consulting through its more than 300 offices covering 60 countries around the globe.”

Employers pay big bucks for LHH’s HR “services in areas such as career and leadership development, outplacement, and executive coaching.”

HR departments and the consulting companies behind them dictate your experience when you’re job hunting. Perhaps worse, this HR hegemony forces you to follow “rules” for getting jobs that contradict your own good business sense and lead you on wild goose chases. But you do it, anyway, because HR people reprimand you — and toss out your application — when you fail to follow those rules.

HR learns this stuff somewhere, from someone. It learns from Peter Alcide, Michael Schumacher, Pamela Jones, and a host of other “policy makers” in the career and employment industry who get paid big bucks for their “guidance” and “best practices.”

Best Practices: A failure of integrity

No decision maker at LHH apologized to me — least of all in Pamela Jones’ letter, which is the only communication LHH has deigned to have with me. No one acknowledged to LHH’s paying clients that they were given stolen advice — or showed them where it actually came from. No one acknowledged that LHH’s content theft caused Ask The Headhunter any harm or damage, much less offered to make amends. It was all “an error” and a “misjudgment” and “an isolated incident” — without any proof that plagiarized content isn’t rife throughout the “intellectual property” LHH sells to its “global” clients for top dollar.

Laurie Ruettimann is right to be worried. Who else’s protected content is being illegally distributed by LHH to its clients? I don’t believe Jones’s assurances for one second.

What’s a copyright violation got to do with how you’re treated when you apply for a job? Both are HR problems.

The treatment you get from HR departments when you apply for a job is considered “best practices” — and it’s exemplified by one of the HR firms that drives HR policy around the world. I’ve just experienced what you go through when an employer hides behind HR.

This story is really about HR’s epic failure of integrity. Integrity can’t be parsed. Either a company demonstrates high standards of behavior in all its dealings — or reveals a lack of integrity across the board.

Ask The Headhunter openly criticizes bad behavior in the career and employment industry, and sometimes specific players including TheLadders, Monster.com, CareerBuilder, and LinkedIn. Job seekers need to be aware of practices that affect their ability to get a job.

Today, a small group of HR consultancies in the career and employment industry establish the standards of behavior that job seekers are expected to meet: How to apply for jobs, how to present themselves, and how to set aside their good business sense if they want to play the HR game of landing a job.

These firms also dictate how HR departments treat and process the people they recruit.

How a top company — that HR looks to for guidance — handled copyright theft reveals problems not only with LHH’s corporate governance and culture, but with its adverse influence over how companies hire and recruit, and how job seekers suffer through the experience.

An industry where nothing is personal

And that’s the problem with the career and employment industry: a lack of personal integrity and a policy of no accountability. It’s why job seekers cringe at the thought of applying for a job; at interviewing with bureaucratic stuffed shirts who cite “policy” and “best practices” as their excuse for disrespectful behavior; and it’s why job seekers don’t dare to expect respectful treatment from hiring managers who take hours of applicants’ time without the courtesy of any follow-up.

  • Has a manager ever taken your ideas and your time — perhaps in multiple job interviews — then disappeared behind the corporate veil rather than talk to you?
  • Have you ever been subjected to the impersonal swat of the HR hand when a company decides you’re not worth its time?
  • Has an HR manager ever demanded your salary history, and when you declined, told you “it’s the policy — we can’t continue without it”?
  • Has a company ever revealed a disrespectful culture to you, contrary to the image it projects in its marketing?

What you need to know as a job seeker is, the treatment you get from HR has its roots in HR consulting firms that establish HR practices across companies. What you know now is that LHH’s culture is consistent from the bottom to the top. What you’re left wondering is, what are LHH’s and Adecco’s corporate clients paying for when they hire these firms and buy their content?

This is a company stuck in the dark ages of corporate HR hegemony, that telegraphs a message that personal responsibility can and should be hidden behind “damage control” — in an age when everything is public.

How can any employer that competes in today’s world adopt “best practices” from an HR consultancy whose own practices suck so badly?

In today’s business world, it’s not always about whether you can make a buck; it’s about the face you show to the public, to your customers, to your competitors, and to people who bust you when you rip them off. But Lee Hecht Harrison clearly doesn’t operate in today’s world. Since few HR departments do, either, is it any wonder that earnest job seekers can’t catch a break in an HR world where integrity is a big FAIL?

In this copyright incident, Lee Hecht Harrison has done nothing to make amends for its violation. Its HR executive has merely avoided acknowledging that the company did any damage.

Why make a big deal of this?

Because job seekers aren’t in a position to — and because LHH’s behavior with respect to a copyright violation reveals a stunning failure of corporate ethics and integrity in the career and employment industry. It’s a big deal because rude, impersonal practices in HR make it hard for employers to hire — and harder for job seekers to get jobs.

Mistreating and abusing you when you apply for jobs is nothing personal — these people don’t know what personal means. It’s simply best practices. But we all deserve better.

Integrity. It’s been defined as what you do even when no one is watching. But what if you get busted? How do you acknowledge and make amends? Have you encountered abusive, impersonal behavior when dealing with employers? Where do you think it comes from? How should we all deal with it? If you work in HR, I’d especially like to hear from you — tell us how your company demonstrates integrity.

Update: November 24, 2015

Following the publication of this article Peter Alcide, President and COO of Lee Hecht Harrison, called me and did the right thing. In a tweet and a posting on the LHH website, he issued a public apology for violating Ask The Headhunter copyright, made restitution for misuse of the content, and the matter is resolved.

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